The Dangers of Untreated STIs
Although no one ever expects that they will acquire a sexually transmitted infection, STIs are common, with an estimated 20 million STIs contracted each year in the United States. These infections are most prevalent among the under 25s, but anyone can develop an STI if they don’t take the necessary precautions during sexual activity. Sexually transmitted infections don’t always cause symptoms, allowing their progression which increases your risk of a range of serious complications.
If chlamydia and gonorrhea are left untreated, you can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility. There is a relatively high chance of you developing PID, and according to the CDC, as many as 15% of women with chlamydia develop this additional infection. Untreated chlamydia can also infect the fallopian tubes directly, and even without any symptoms, your fallopian tubes can suffer permanent damage.
Even if you are able to successfully conceive when you have an untreated STI, during pregnancy there is a risk to your baby. For instance, the American Pregnancy Association reports that syphilis and herpes can trigger miscarriage, while chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause premature labor. During vaginal delivery, a baby can contract an infection if you have an STD; gonorrhea can lead to eye infections and pneumonia is a risk with chlamydia, while congenital syphilis and herpes can also occur. Additionally, there is a high risk of transmitting HIV or hepatitis B to your baby during birth.
Increased risk of certain cancers
The National Institutes of Health advises that certain strains of the human papillomavirus, which is responsible for genital warts, increase your risk of cervical, penile, mouth, throat and anal cancers. If you have a chronic hepatitis B infection, your chances of developing liver cancer are also one hundred times higher than someone without the virus. Alternatively, if you have a more advanced stage of HIV, you are more likely to develop cervical cancer, Kaposi sarcoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Increased Infection Risk to HIV
If you have an STI, you are at increased risk of acquiring HIV from oral, vaginal or anal sex, as highlighted by an article from Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS. All types of STI increase levels of inflammation within your body, which increases the number of immune cells in the infected area, allowing HIV to take hold more easily. Sexually transmitted infections that cause ulcers, such as syphilis and herpes, also allow HIV easier access to your body.
Although the death rate from AIDS in the US is now far lower than it was during the 1990s, in 2012 CDC figures show that 13,712 people still died from the infection. In the same year there were 1804 deaths from hepatitis B. There are currently about 30 deaths from syphilis each year in the US, but when syphilis remains untreated, the mortality rate is over 50 percent.
Far from simply causing uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms, STIs are responsible for a number of life-changing and life-threatening conditions. It is therefore vital that you practice safe sex and get regular STI screening if you are sexually active, allowing you to access early treatment if necessary.